The lights are on
One of the most rewarding experiences of any Assassin’s Creed game is roaming through recreations of some of history’s most picturesque cities. From the dust-caked streets of Jerusalem to the Byzantine marvels of Constantinople, the experience of exploring the neighborhoods once inhabited by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli is a thrill for history buffs. With Assassin’s Creed III taking place before, during, and after the American Revolution, players will soon get the chance to explore the rapidly evolving hub cities of Boston and New York City, but the real draw of the New World setting is the untamed wilderness that comprised the majority of the continent.
This isn’t the first time players have been given access to the regions between cities in Assassin’s Creed. The original game featured the Kingdom, an open landscape that connected the cities of Acre, Masyaf, Damascus, and Jerusalem. The problem was that all you could do in this area was get chased by guards and track down flags. Ubisoft Montreal is aware that in the post Red Dead Redemption world, the bar for open expanses of explorable terrain is high. In Assassin’s Creed III, the studio plans to pack the Frontier with several activities.
For all intents and purposes, the Frontier serves as the “third city” in the game. Whereas no missions took place in the open area between the cities in the original game, the Frontier is home to roughly 30 percent of the story missions in Assassin’s Creed III. It’s also a huge expanse of land.
“The map of the Frontier is 1.5 times bigger than the entire map of Brotherhood,” says creative director Alex Hutchinson. “It has this sense of exploration about it, which I don’t think we’ve had before. That notion of you versus the wilderness.”
The Frontier is a hyper-realized version of the American Northeast filled with dense forest, fields, farming regions, lakes, mountains, cliffs, caves, and recognizable landmarks. The countryside is also home to several smaller Native American and European settlements, including logging camps, mills, trading posts, protagonist Conner’s Mohawk village Valley Forge, and the towns of Lexington, Concord, and Charlestown. Ubisoft says there will be no load times when you’re exploring the Frontier, ensuring a seamless experience until you return to New York or Boston.
These small towns and war locations will also transform as time passes and the fighting takes its toll. Whereas Valley Forge may be filled with troops in anticipation for the battle, if you come back after the fight all you may see are a few lingering injured soldiers and some abandoned tents.
Into The Great Wide Open
Introducing a region so large raises a question – how do players get around the Frontier? Ubisoft Montreal designed it with the intention that players can go anywhere on foot, but you have other, more entertaining options. “It should be as fun to run around the wilderness as the city,” Hutchinson says.
Tree traversal is Connor’s most impressive method of navigation. Once he’s up in the branches, he can move swiftly from tree to tree, an effective tool for moving undetected past patrolling soldiers below. To build this functionality, Ubisoft Montreal borrowed the RealTree technology from Far Cry 2 and tweaked it to make the trees into a gameplay platform. Building fully interactive objects with branches, knobs, and V-shaped trunks that allow players to travel in any direction at any time wasn’t easy. “I think it’s fair to say that trees were not the favorite topic of our technical directors,” Hutchinson says with a laugh.
The engineering difficulties look like they were worth the trouble. In the demo we watched, Connor moves effortlessly while running, jumping, and monkey barring across tree branches and around trunks. When necessary, the camera pans to show the player where to go when navigational options become scarce. Within the frontier, gigantic landmark trees serve as the wilderness equivalent to the city towers. After working your way to the top, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking vista of the New England countryside.
For those times where you want to get to your destination quickly, you can jump on a horse instead of vaulting through the trees. While the developers didn’t go to the crazy lengths that Rockstar did with motion capturing a horse, Ubisoft says it did its due diligence developing the AI so the animal operates with a mind of its own. The horse knows when it needs to veer around trees, and is smart enough to stop if you try to run him off a dangerous cliff. Horses are also capable of traversing uneven terrain, but there are some extreme areas they will avoid as well.
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